Oct 1, 2021
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Russia – Turkey: “talking frankly” and the Syrian issue

On September 29, at the Sochi residence of Bocharov Ruchey, after a one and a half year pause, negotiations were held between the presidents of Russia and Turkey, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which lasted about three hours and ended without a final press conference. Considering the time spent on translation and the extensive list of issues of mutual interest, the meeting looks short-lived, Turkish commentators say. Erdogan’s small retinue included his closest confidants: senior adviser Ibrahim Kalyn, head of the public relations department Fahrettin Altun and intelligence department Hakan Fidan (but not the foreign and defense ministers Mevlut Cavusoglu and Hulusi Akar).

Beyond the framework of official information, kept in a neutral key, it will be possible to thoroughly judge the specific results of the meeting by the dynamics of subsequent events in the conflict regions of Russian-Turkish interaction, and above all in Syria. Nevertheless, you should pay attention to some of the nuances right now.

During his traditional conversation with journalists on board the plane returning to Turkey, Erdogan revealed some of the issues discussed during the Sochi meeting. One of them is the possible construction of a second or third nuclear power plant on Turkish territory, in addition to Akkuyu, joint space research, the production of certain types of military products, etc.

In the Syrian issue, Turkey remains committed to the agreements with Moscow, and “there is no turning back.” At the same time, the coordinator of the US National Security Council for the Middle East and North Africa went to Brett McGurk, who, according to the Turkish leader, “Walks in an embrace with terrorists” and “In fact … is the director of the PKK / SNC terrorists”… Americans “Sooner or later we will have to leave Syria and leave these lands to the Syrian people”, says the leader of the state, to whom such a wish could be addressed with no less reason.

One of the direct consequences of the many years of Turkish intervention in Syrian affairs and the course of overthrowing the “Assad regime” was a multimillion flow of refugees, which created a serious burden on the Turkish economy. According to the mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, representing the opposition Republican People’s Party, in the largest urban agglomeration on the shores of the Bosphorus, about two million settlers from Syria have gathered. According to Erdogan, more than 1 million Syrians have returned to their homes, including about 400,000 in Idlib. The main part of the territory of this region is controlled by the terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham *, banned in Russia, whose leader Western propagandists are creating the reputation of a “decent” figure. The Turkish leader promises to continue “our efforts to safely return the Syrians who are visiting Turkey,” which is somewhat different from his previous statements, which were in neo-Ottoman and pan-Islamist tones.

Turkish pro-government edition Daily sabah titled an article about Erdogan’s trip to Sochi as follows: “President Erdogan is putting pressure on Putin to restore peace in Idlib.” However, less committed observers question this thesis, drawing attention to the fact that the Turkish leader did not appear in the best (apparently) physical and political form for the meeting in Sochi. Expressing recently from the UN rostrum vociferous support for Kiev, claiming the Russian Crimea, Erdogan clearly counted on a meeting with the owner of the White House. However, the expectations for a joint selfie with “sleepy Joe” did not come true, which caused the Turkish president a series of offended and irritated escapades that were not very appropriate for a politician aspiring to world leadership. Neither the sale of shock drones to Ukraine and Poland, nor the pedaling of anti-Crimean rhetoric, nor the obsessive readiness to “ensure security” at the Kabul airport after the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan helped. The traditional maneuvering line between Washington and Moscow has failed yet again. It was not possible to “sell” the rotten goods to the Americans again in the form of non-recognition of the “annexation of Crimea”. The supply of unmanned aerial vehicles to Kiev and the possible deployment of joint production of Bayraktars with Ukraine (as Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kuleba spoke about recently) is unlikely to contribute to the development of bilateral Russian-Turkish relations.

Controversial issues between Ankara and Moscow “on the ground” will continue to be resolved with varying degrees of efficiency by the military and diplomatic departments of the two countries. This will be especially useful in northwestern Syria, where the response to the activation of radical armed groups was the frequent attacks on their positions by the Russian Aerospace Forces. In particular, on September 26, as a result of an attack on a school used as a military headquarters, several dozen militants of one of the pro-Turkish gangs were destroyed and wounded. Recall that it was the unprecedented aggravation of the situation in Idlib, which led to the deaths of several dozen Turkish military, that became an alarming background for Erdogan’s previous, rather hasty trip to Russia in early 2020, which culminated in the signing of the “Moscow agreements” designed to contain the military escalation.

Nevertheless, Moscow regularly draws attention to the chronic inability of Turkish counterparties to facilitate the implementation of previously reached ceasefire agreements, including the unblocking of the terrorist-controlled strategic M-4 road.

It remains unclear whether Erdogan asked his Russian counterpart to stop the airstrikes, thus eliminating the threat of accidental defeat of Turkish “observation posts” around Idlib and resuming joint Turkish-Russian patrols on the M-4 highway. Moscow’s position on this issue is clear: militants of radical groups are using Turkish military posts in “Greater Idlib” as a “shield” for terrorist attacks. The recent resignations of some Turkish generals (including those from the special forces) may indicate increased risks to the occupying contingent in northwestern Syria, numbering tens of thousands of people.

As the press secretary of the Russian president Dmitry Peskov, who does not have “fully this information,” said during the talks in Sochi “The need to fulfill [ранее достигнутых договоренностей] in terms of ousting terrorist elements from Idlib that are still present there, which can pose a threat and carry out aggressive offensive actions against the Syrian army “… A few days earlier, another impressive column of the Turkish army, reinforced with armored vehicles, went to the north-west of Syria. It is hardly necessary to trust the resources, which hastened to announce the beginning of the partial withdrawal of Turkish forces from some of the areas occupied by them in the south of Idlib. Moscow and Ankara have agreed to maintain the status quo – this is how a high-ranking Turkish official interprets the “Syrian” results of the talks.

The absence of the Turkish Foreign Minister in Sochi best characterizes Ankara’s foreign policy style, subordinate to the interests of the political survival of the owner of Ak-Saray on the eve of the presidential elections in 2023. It is not excluded that these elections may become extraordinary. The statements of the Turkish leader indicate that he will strive to further get the maximum possible from cooperation with Russia. To what extent such a course will be successful and guaranteed against new ups and downs is an open question. Despite the failure in New York, if everything goes according to plan, the presidents of Turkey and the United States will meet at the end of October on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Rome.


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